Covering Jordan Peterson

When is he newsworthy?

Last week, The Varsity published a story covering the online threats a British journalist received after interviewing controversial University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. Commenting on the story, a reader asked: how is this newsworthy to the University of Toronto? It’s not the first time The Varsity has been asked this question.

As U of T’s student newspaper, The Varsity exists to keep readers informed of campus affairs, so you can argue that the story of the British journalist is newsworthy because Peterson is a U of T professor of continued interest to The Varsity’s readership.

But is this really enough? Does Peterson’s position as a professor at the university make all of the controversy that surrounds him noteworthy to campus life? Though no one else is currently as controversial on campus as Peterson, other high-profile professors get covered with much less frequency by The Varsity.

With the story only tangentially related to campus affairs, what do The Varsity’s readers get from another story on Jordan Peterson? As a newspaper, The Varsity’s fundamental purpose is to further inform or empower its public. How does this story do that?  There is little new information in the story. It’s not the first time a critic of Peterson has been met with online threats from his followers.

One reason I’m told The Varsity published the story is that Peterson provided them with comment for the first time in almost a year. The story quotes Peterson as saying, “Criticism and threats are not the same thing, and as far as I know there has been no police involvement.”

But is this really enough? The story The Varsity published is of a British journalist receiving threats for interviewing Peterson, not of Peterson commenting to the newspaper for the first time in over a year. Comment from Peterson does not make the story of threats directed at a British journalist for interviewing him more immediately relevant to campus life.

The real reason that Peterson continues to receive so much coverage is that readers continue to read it. My concern is that The Varsity has only so many resources at its disposal to cover the news. At some point, covering Peterson comes at the expense of covering other issues and events on campus. Are we comfortable with this trade-off?

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